AC/DC in Tacoma, August 31, 2009; PC: Wikimedia Commons
As any normal music fan, we sometimes aren’t satisfied with simply the songs when it comes to our favorite bands. Some of us want to know their back story, some of us want to know who they’re dating, and some of us even want to know their favorite food! While some fans are simply casual and other are downright fanatical, musicians are a different breed of fans, more like brothers in arms actually. Rather than wanting to know things that have little to do with music and more to do with the trivial personal matters in the artist’s life, musicians want the gear info! And why not? It’s a chance to look at the tools in their repertoire, compare it with themselves, or even just gain a deeper sense of what makes the band work. This week, we will be taking a deeper look into one of the most successful groups in rock and roll history. Even after the death of their enigmatic frontman - right before the band was about to blow up - couldn’t keep AC/DC from putting out one of the best selling albums in the world. Known for their uncanny skills at rocking out as well as their extreme longevity, AC/DC continues to draw huge crowds as they keep on pumping out brand new material, even to this day. So, for those of you ready to rock, read on and find out how two bothers joined forces to a create a band that would define much of the hard rock genre after it - and the gear that got them there!
The Beginnings of AC/DC
From Left; Angus and Malcolm Young
The birth of AC/DC begins with the two siblings in the group, Angus and Malcolm. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, and later moving to Australia, Angus and Malcolm are the younger brothers to George and Alex Young, with George actually being the catalyst that would inspire the younger duo into dedicating themselves to rock. As a member of The Easybeats, George Young attained a good deal of success in the land down under, easily being one of the biggest native acts during the ‘60s. In 1966, The Easybeats became the first local Australian band to attain an international hit with their song “Friday on My Mind.” Eldest brother Alex Young meanwhile was living in the UK as the bass player for the London based rock group, Grapefruit. Little brother Malcolm soon followed in his older brothers’ footsteps as he began playing with a New Castle, New South Wales, band known as The Velvet Underground (not to be confused with Lou Reed’s New York based Velvet Underground). Soon after, he decided to form a band with little brother Angus, who was already becoming an outstanding guitarist in his own right. Before they would officially recruit members for their new band project, the brothers needed a name. The name AC/DC developed from an idea given to them by older sister Margaret after she saw the initials “AC/DC” on her sewing machine and the name stuck.
By November of 1973, the brothers had recruited bassist Larry Van Kriedt, vocalist Dave Evans, and drummer Colin Burgess, formally creating AC/DC. Their first break came via help from famous Australian roadie Ray Arnold and his partner Alan Kissack, who both convinced the owner of the popular “Sydney” night club, Gene Pierson, to allow the group to perform there on New Year’s Eve, to which he agreed. Although much of the crowd complained of excessive noise during AC/DC’s performance, Pierson was impressed enough to book the group to at several more venues including the Bondi Lifesaver. Soon after, the band fired Colin Burgess and continued to go through several different drummers and bassists the remainder of the year. By this time, Angus had already begun dressing in his signature school boy outfit. Before settling on what eventually became synonymous with the rocker, Angus had tried other costumes such as Spider-Man, Zorro, a gorilla and even Superman. The rest of the band also tried to take on a unique approach to their attire with most of them selecting glam heavy satin outfits. This did not last long as other bands were already taking the same approach, most notably the Melbourne band Skyhooks. The band sought to further seperate themselves from the glam rock scene that had begun to grow around them to the point where they fired vocalist Dave Evans on account of his similar style to glam rocker Garry Glitter as well as his tumultuous relationship with AC/DC’s manager, Dennis Laughlin. It was at this time that Gene Pierson made the arrangement for Fraternity singer Bon Scott to join the group as well as have AC/DC perform at a school holiday concert promoted by Australia’s biggest rock station, 2SM, which eventually boosted the band’s popularity and helped sign them with the EMI-distributed Albert Productions label for Australia and New Zealand.
Bon Scott Joins the Group and Initial Success
AC/DC at the Ulster Hall, Belfast w/Bon Scott (right)
By the time Bon Scott joined in 1974, the group had only recorded one single with former vocalist Dave Evans, the song “Can I Sit Next To You, Girl,” which was eventually re-written and re-recorded with Scott on vocals (later released as track 7 on the Australia-only T.N.T. album and track 6 in the international version of High Voltage). Later that year, the band recorded their debut album, an Australia-only release titled High Voltage. By this time, AC/DC had solidified their members and now featured Mark Evans on bass and Phil Rudd on drums. Before the end of the year, they released the single “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)" which would later be included on AC/DC’s second album, the Australia and New Zealand-only release, T.N.T..
By 1976, the band finally signed an international record deal with Atlantic Records and did much touring around Europe including their first UK tour sponsored by Sounds magazine, called the Lock Up Your Daughters Summer Tour. During this time, the band toured in support of several of rock’s top bands such as KISS, Styx, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, UFO and Blue Oyster Cult as well as co-headlining with Cheap Trick. Their first album to receive international distribution was a compilation of tracks off their previous two albums and released that same year in ‘76. The new album, also titled High Voltage, mainly featured tracks off of the T.N.T. album with only two tracks coming off the Australia-only High Voltage LP.
Fresh off the heels of their first international release, AC/DC released yet another album in 1976, known as Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap which was released in two versions; an Australia-only release and an international release that featured a few songs from the previous album that had yet to be released outside of either New Zealand or Australia. Although Dirty Deeds did receive an international release, the album failed to come to the US until the peak of the band’s popularity years later in 1981.
That next year in 1977, bassist Mark Evans was fired from the band for his personal quarrels with Angus Young and replaced by Cliff Williams, but not before the group had finished recording their next record, Let There Be Rock. Cliff would make his album debut with the 1978 release of Powerage. By this time, AC/DC was huge in Australia and had a sizeable cult following in Europe, especially in the UK where the group was categorized into the fledging punk rock genre, but had yet to make an impact in the US. Their first significant try at gaining exposure in the US came via Michigan radio station AM 600 WTAC in 1977. The station’s manager, Peter Cananaugh, booked the band to perform at Flint’s Capital Theater with MC5 as the supporting act.
US Success, the Death of Bon Scott and Moving Forward
By this time, the band was a solidified success in both Europe and Australia, but the band still had failed to achieve significant success in the US, although they did garner the attention of several prominent American rockers such as Eddie Van Halen, who at the time proclaimed Let there Be Rock as his favorite in the genre. Their American breakthrough finally came with the release of their next record, Highway to Hell. The record marked the first time the group had not gone with Harry Vanda and older brother George Young as producers, instead choosing to go with Robert John “Mutt” Lange. The album was noted for moving AC/DC away from their comedic overtone in song subject matter to more central rock themes as well as bolstering the backing vocals all while keeping the band’s signature loud, simple and energetic sound. Highway to Hell was the first AC/DC album to enter the US top 100, peaking at No. 17 shortly after its 1979 release.
Cover art for AC/DC's Back in Black (1980)
Still riding high after the release of their breakthrough album, AC/DC went back to the studio in early 1980 to record their follow-up. On February 19, 1980, Bon Scott, who was 33 at the time, went out for drinks at a London nightclub known as the Music Machine. After a night of heavy drinking, friend Alistair Kinnear let Scott sleep in his Renault 5 which was parked nearby on 67 Overhill Road in East Dulwich, South London. The next day, Kinnear returned to his car to find Scott lifeless and quickly called authorities. Scott was taken to King’s College Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. The official cause of death was listed as “alcohol poisoning” and “death by misadventure,” although the actual death was directly caused by pulmonary aspiration (choked) by vomit. Shortly after his death, the remaining members of AC/DC considered calling it quits but decided to go on after speaking with Scott’s mother, who suggested that the best way to honor her son’s memory was to keep the band going, as that would have been what he wanted.
Once the group was certain that they should continue, the search for a new vocalist was undertaken. The band considered several candidates for the position including then Slade singer, Noddy Holder, ex-Moxy member, Buzz Shearman and ex-Back Street Crawler vocalist, Terry Slesser, but ultimately went with ex-Geordie singer, Brian Johnson. Angus Young would later recall of the experience: “I remember the first time I had ever heard Brian's (Johnson) name was from Bon. Bon had mentioned that he had been in England once touring with a band and he had mentioned that Brian had been in a band called Geordie and Bon had said 'Brian Johnson, he was a great rock and roll singer in the style of Little Richard.' And that was Bon's big idol, Little Richard. I think when he saw Brian at that time, to Bon it was 'Well he's a guy that knows what rock and roll is all about.' He mentioned that to us in Australia. I suppose when we decided to continue, Brian was the first name that Malcolm and myself came up with, so we said we should see if we can find him." During Johnson’s audition, he sang “Whole Lotta Rosie” from Let There Be Rock and the Ike & Tina Turner song “Nutbush City Limits.” A few days after the audition, Brian Johnson was hired as AC/Dc’s new vocalist.
Brian Johnson and Back in Black
With a new vocalist secured, AC/DC finished writing the remainder of the new album they had begun with Scott. The group recorded the album at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas the months following Scott’s death and brought back Highway to Hell producer “Mutt” Lange. Back in Black became AC/DC’s biggest seller almost immediately, eventually becoming one of the top selling album in the world... EVER, having sold upwards of 49 million albums to date. It is currently in a neck in neck race with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (50 million+ albums sold) for the second spot behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. The album featured some of AC/DC most lauded songs and set list staples such as the title track “Back in Black,” “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Hell’s Bells.” The album was so popular in the UK that several of the band’s earlier records (Highway to Hell, Let There Be Rock and the live album If You Want Blood You’ve Got It) re-entered the charts following its release, making AC/DC the only band since the Beatles to have four albums in the British Top 100 simultaneously.
AC/DC would go on to record several more albums, with their latest release, Black Ice, hitting the top spot on the Billboard album charts upon its 2008 release and are currently making plans to record a follow-up. They have released 16 albums to date (including the TNT/High Voltage international compilation released simply as High Voltage) and have embarked on numerous tours throughout their long careers. Although the group did experience a decrease in commercial success following the release of Back in Black and its follow-up, For Those About To Rock We Salute You, it would only be a speed bump as AC/DC has continued to sell out huge arenas and plenty of albums.
The Gear Behind The Glory
Angus Young live with AC/DC on November
23, 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota
Angus Young – Lead Guitar
Gibson ES-355 Custom
Fender extra heavy picks (110 mm)
Malcolm Young at AC/DC Monster of
Rock Tour 1991
Malcolm Young – Rhythm Guitar
Gretsch G6131MY Malcolm Young II Signature Electric Guitar
Gretsch G6136T White Falcon with Bigsby
Gretsch G6131SMY Malcolm Young I Signature Electric Guitar
Custom Made Wizard Heads
Marshall Super Bass 100 heads
Gibson pure nickel roundwound strings, .012 to .056.
Heavy Fender Picks
Cliff Williams performing with AC/DC
on November 23, 2008 in St. Paul, MN
Cliff Williams – Bass
Gibson Thunderbird Bass
Steinberger L-series Bass
Gibson EB-3 bass
LAG Custom Bass
Ashdown 810 cabinets for live
D’Addario Strings Flatwound (.045,.065,.085,.105)
D’Addario Round Wound XLs
Phil Rudd with AC/DC on November 23,
2008 in St. Paul, MN
Phil Rudd – Drummer
Sonor Designer Series Drums, Maple Light Shells, Solid Black Finish:
22x18" Bass Drum
13x13" Tom Tom
16x18" Floor Tom
18x18" Floor Tom
Sonor Signature Series Horst Link 14x5" Snare (Brass Shell, Die Cast Hoops)
Sonor Phil Rudd Signature 14x5" Snare (Chrome over Brass Shell, Die Cast Hoops)
14" Medium Hi-Hat
Bass Drum: EQ2
Toms: Clear G2 on the batter side, EC Resonant on the resonant side
Snare: EC Reverse Dot on the batter side, Hazy 300 on the resonant side, PureSound "Blasters" Snare Wire
Sonor 600 Series Hardware:
DT 670 Drum Throne
SS 677 Snare Stand
CBS 672 Cymbal Boom Stands (6x)
CBA 672 Cymbal Boom Arm
Sonor GSP 3 Giant Step Bass Drum Pedal
Sonor 5000 Series Double Tom Stand
Sonor 5000 Series Hi-Hat Stand
Easton Ahead Drumsticks
. www.bravewords.com. "AC/DC Guitarist Angus Young Remembers Bon Scott – "When I Think Back In Hindsight, He Was A Guy That I Always Knew Was Full Of Life"". Bravewords.com. Retrieved 9 April 2011.
*All photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons